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       Penny, p.13

           Hal Borland
 
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  Dusk came, and darkness. Dr. Lovallo appeared, now in a brown tweed suit, Dr. Bornemann in gray. They examined her, sent word for Dr. Smith. He came in, dapper in tweed jacket, weskit and slacks. They conferred.

  “If she can hold on through the night,” Dr. Smith finally said, “She has a chance.”

  Dr. Bornemann said, “It’s touch and go.”

  And Dr. Lovallo said, “It could go either way.”

  Dr. Smith checked the intravenous needles and ordered another round when this one was gone. They stood at the bedside, watching her and looking grave. Then they left.

  She was fretful, briefly conscious from time to time. Diane had left and Patricia had come. Rose left and Elsie took her place. The night wore on, the lights low and the nurses hushed and hurrying from room to room in silence. Finally there were the first streaks of dawn.

  Penny had slept without waking almost two hours. Now she roused with more clarity than she had had since the accident. “Nurse,” she called, and Elsie was at her bedside.

  “Yes?”

  “You have been very kind,” Penny said. “Everyone has. Please tell them for me, when I am—”

  “There, there, dear. You can tell them later.”

  “No,” Penny said. “I am going away. I have had a good life, even though a brief one. Excitement, love, joy, the whole wonderful experience of living. I have lived!”

  “Yes, dear. And you will go on—”

  Penny’s eyelids fluttered. Her throat choked and she caught a shallow breath. “Yes,” she said, “I am going on … on … on …” Her voice faded. Her eyes closed. And the last thing she heard was the muffled sobbing of Elsie, the nurse.

  For a little while she seemed to be nowhere, floating in a vast blue infinity of sky. Not moving, just floating, but somehow going somewhere. She didn’t know where, and she didn’t know how, and it didn’t matter in the least. There was no more pain, and there was nothing to trouble her in any way. Then she was aware of something under her, something soft as down, soft as the softest cushion she ever slept on. All around her was this softness, a gleaming kind of cloud that seemed to be carrying her somewhere. And there was a sense of peace, of a sunlit meadow with a quiet brook and butterflies. She fell asleep.

  Later, how much later she did not know, she was crossing that meadow and the cushiony cloud was gone. The grass was soft underfoot. The brook water, when she paused there for a drink, was the sweetest, coolest, clearest water she ever saw. Then she followed a path to a big red farmhouse at the far side of the meadow, and as she came close she saw a man and two dogs sitting on the front steps. He was an old man, with white hair and a long white beard, and he looked very friendly. One dog was a big brown and white Saint Bernard. The other was a black and white hound who looked like a cross between a beagle and a foxhound.

  Penny hesitated at the edge of the dooryard, but the man said, “Hello, Penny. We’ve been expecting you. Come on up and see us.”

  Penny wondered how he knew her name. But lots of people knew who she was. She liked his voice. She went closer and hesitated again.

  The man held out his hand. “Come on,” he urged. “We want to talk to you.” And at last she went right up to him and he rubbed her ears and she licked his hand. “My name is Peter,” he said. “And these are my two special assistants for canine affairs. This big fellow is Saint Bernard, whom you may have heard of. And this young strutter,” he said with a laugh as he turned to the black and white hound, “is—well, I call him Saint Pat. Not really a saint, but he deserves a title. Just call him Pat, if you like.… And now, young lady, account for yourself.”

  Penny hardly knew what to say, but she sensed that she must tell the truth, that Peter and his assistants would know if she told even the tiniest falsehood. So she told them the truth, or a reasonable approximation, with only a few tall tales thrown in. Peter shook a finger at her once, and Saint Bernard huffed once, but Saint Pat just sat there and smiled when she called the road sweeper a prehistoric dog-eater. She decided she liked Saint Pat best of all of them.

  She told her story, and Peter turned to Saint Bernard and asked, “Well, what do you think?” And Saint Bernard nodded and looked very solemn, though there was a twinkle in his eyes. “You?” Peter asked Saint Pat.

  Pat actually smiled. “She stays, or I go,” he said.

  And Peter leaned back and laughed and slapped his knee, and then leaned forward and rubbed Penny’s ears. “All right, honey, you stay.” Then he turned to Saint Pat. “And since you come from the same county down there”—and he pointed with his finger—“why don’t you show Miss Penny around? Catch up on gossip about the home folks too.”

  And Saint Pat, who preferred to be known as just plain Pat, said, “Thank you, Peter. I’ll be honored to do just that.”

  Pat and Penny started down the walk from the red farmhouse together, just like old, old friends, and Peter shouted, “You needn’t hurry back. We’ll have cook save supper for you. Both of you.”

  And they trotted off across the pasture toward the woods and the mountainside where Pat had run the rabbits ten years before Penny was born. They seemed to be having as good a time as though they were in dog heaven.

  Fourteen

  Penny, Barbara said, starting her version of the story, was as good as pie that morning. She didn’t quarrel with the other dogs or disturb the cat or spill her breakfast on the floor. She had resolved to be a new dog, get along with everybody, love the world and do what was asked of her. She made that resolution every third day, and sometimes in between. But this morning she also resolved to do things the way they wanted them done.

  And then, when he came down to breakfast, Bob said to her, “Penny, I want you to stay home today. Understand? No rambling off to see who will give you the best free meal in the county.” He smiled when he said it, but Penny knew that tone in his voice. It made her bristle inside and automatically say to herself, “I won’t. You can’t make me.”

  Sybil said, “She’s a very good dog, aren’t you, Penny? And she’s going to stay home until the people from Connecticut come.” Penny knew that voice, too. Why was it that women who wanted you to do things their way had to treat you like a moron? Look you right in the eye and call you “She,” as though you were somebody else and didn’t know it.

  But she thought, All right, I’ll do it their way this time. And she was still in that frame of mind when Bob came downstairs with his coat on, ready to go. He went to the door, held it ajar as usual and turned to Sybil. Sybil said, “Wait just a sec, till I get a leash on her,” and went to the closet. That did it. If doing things their way today meant being on a leash, she wanted none of it. She made a dash for the door, almost knocked Bob down and was outside before Sybil even reached the closet.

  She didn’t wait to see what happened next. She took to the brushy hillside back of the barn. She did hear Sybil calling her once or twice, and then she heard Bob’s car drive off. She went on up the hill.

  Well, so much for good resolutions. Again. Something always happened. Sybil said she admired Penny’s free spirit, and then what did she do? Try to curb it. What was so wonderful about sitting around all day on a leash, waiting for somebody to come and say, “Why, hello Penny! Don’t you remember me?” And then talk about all the crazy, childish things Penny did once. What was so wonderful about waiting for anything, period? For the next meal. For a kind word. For tomorrow. Yesterday and tomorrow could take care of themselves. Anybody could have them. Today was what counted.

  She went over the brushy hilltop and cut back to the road. The school bus was coming. It would stop at the next driveway. She ran and got there just in time. A little girl and a little boy named Jane and Dick got on, and then Penny got on. The driver waited for her, closed the door and all the children shouted, “Hello, Penny!” Two little boys tried to pull her ears and two little girls pushed them away and said, “Nice Penny, come and sit with us.” Which she did.

  One of the little girls opened her lunch
box and gave Penny a coconut cookie. Penny didn’t like coconut so she slobbered most of the cookie onto the floor, and the driver looked back and said, “Clean that up, you kids, and don’t feed the dog. Understand? This is a school bus, not a pigpen.”

  One little boy shouted, “Pigpen, pigpen, Penny’s in a pigpen.” Others took up the chant. Everybody joined in, even Penny, until the driver threatened to turn around and take them all home if they didn’t shut up.

  They were still chanting when they reached the school. Everybody got off. Penny went inside and visited several rooms, debating; then she decided this wasn’t a schoolday for her. School wasn’t like the ski lodge, anyway. Nobody fed her salami sandwiches. All they ever gave her were coconut cookies and peanut butter sandwiches. Peanut butter, ugh! She almost gagged at the memory of how it stuck in her mouth. As bad as bubble gum.

  The bell rang and the hallways were crowded, so she waited till all were in their rooms and then she left. She went down to the village main street. She said good morning to the butcher, and he called her Bad Penny and said “Back again” and laughed at her. But he gave her a scrap of the boiled ham he was getting ready to slice. “On the house,” he said. Penny didn’t really like ham, but it took the coconut taste away.

  She went on down the street, said good morning to the postmaster and the grocer and the hardware man. She met two of the village dogs, fat old house dogs, and she wandered about with them for a time, listening to their talk about the good old days. To hear them tell it, there hadn’t been anything worth seeing or doing since they were puppies, eight or ten years ago. Penny preened and strutted, but they were so busy reminiscing that they scarcely saw her. She called them a pair of old fuddy-duddies and left them. She decided there wasn’t much excitement in the village today and began to wonder what Marion was having for lunch. It was still early, but she started to Marion’s house, taking the shortcut through the woods. There she found a fresh rabbit scent and spent an hour running the rabbit in big circles and then sniffing and whining at the stone wall where it ran in. By then she was less than half a mile from Marion’s house.

  Marion answered her first bark and gave her the usual welcome. Marion asked her about Sybil and Abby and the other dogs. The house smelled of cooking, something with herbs in it. Penny didn’t care for herbs. But she stayed, and pretty soon Marion said, “Lunchtime, Penny!” Penny was all set for a juicy piece of steak. But Marion began dishing up stew. She put it in the dish she always used for Penny and set it aside to cool. “Sorry, Penny,” she said, “but there’s not one bit of steak today. So you’re going to have the same thing I do—savory beef stew. Ummm!” she said, and smacked her lips. “You’ll love it!”

  Penny didn’t care for stew, savory or not. But it was better than nothing. She waited, and pretty soon Marion set it on the floor for her and Penny ate, slowly, carefully, pushing the chunk of carrot to the side of her dish instead of putting it on the floor. Marion sat at the kitchen table and ate her own stew, telling Penny again how very tasty it was, and she told Penny about the letters she had written that morning. Penny wasn’t the least bit interested. She licked her chops clean and went into the living room and climbed up on the sofa and went to sleep.

  She slept till almost two o’clock, then went to the door and Marion let her out. Not much of a day, Penny thought. Hardly worth the bother of running away this morning. First Bob, then Sybil, then—Oh, the children in the school bus were all right, but they were just kids. Then those two old dogs in the village, who wouldn’t give her a leer, not even a second look. And stew instead of steak. She belched the herbs and made a face at the taste. Well, she might as well go back and see the Connecticut People. It was only a few miles, and at least they would be different faces, different voices. She turned up the road toward Sybil’s place.

  She hadn’t gone a mile when a dark green panel truck drew up beside her, a truck she had never seen before. A man with a walrus mustache leaned out and said, “Hello, Spot. Aren’t you a real dandy, though!”

  Penny stopped and looked at him. He had a pleasant enough voice. The man beside him, a man with a blond beard, said, “Not a car nor a house in sight. All’s clear!” And the first man opened the door and said, “Come on, hop in, Spot.”

  Penny decided maybe he was another mailman or bus driver. She welcomed a ride. She scrambled in and the man with the beard had her by the collar before the door was shut. “Hmmm!” he said. “Real class. Probably pedigreed. She must have cost a pretty penny.”

  The other man, the driver, said, “Probably worth more at a kennel than she is at the lab.”

  The man holding Penny took a pair of nippers from his pocket, snipped her license tag from her collar and threw it into the roadside ditch. “There,” he said. “Now you’re just a dog, anybody’s dog. A pretty-penny dog.” And Penny rather liked him. He knew her name. She tried to put her paws on the window ledge, to see where they were going, but he said, “No, you don’t, Fido! You stay right here till you go in back with the rest of them.”

  They passed Sybil’s driveway and kept on going. They drove another hour before they turned off onto a side road, then onto a track that led into a woodland. There they parked and the men got out, the one with the beard still holding Penny in his arms. They went to the back of the truck, unlocked and opened the door. Inside was a heavy mesh cage with four dogs in it, all asleep. One, an English setter, opened one eye and tried to lift its head but seemed to lack the strength. A strange sweetish odor came from the cage.

  The driver filled a hypodermic needle from a bottle in his pocket and asked, “Ready?”

  The man holding Penny said, “Shoot,” and reached for Penny’s collar.

  Before he got hold of the collar, the driver ruffled the hair on Penny’s hip and jabbed with the needle. Penny yelped with pain and surprise, made a convulsive leap and was out of the bearded man’s arms. She struck the ground running. The men cursed and shouted, then ran after her. She scurried through the brush, running for her life.

  She soon outdistanced them in the tangled underbrush. But suddenly her legs felt very tired. She had to slow to a walk. Instinct told her to find a hiding place. She crawled into a clump of bushes, found a deep bed of leaves, wallowed into it, quivering, not knowing what had happened. Five minutes and she was asleep, drugged by about two thirds of the dose of sedative the man had tried to inject. The rest of it squirted into the air as she leaped free. But that partial dose had now taken effect.

  She slept hidden there in the bushes the rest of the afternoon and into the night, wakened wondering where she was and aware only of a dizzying headache. She slept again, till daylight, and wakened enough to stagger to her feet. Her tongue was thick and she was parched. She found a path and followed it to a sweet-smelling brook, where she drank her fill. Then she lay in the water and cooled her whole body. Some of the confusion cleared, but only enough so that she knew she must keep going. She went all that day, keeping to the woods and fields. She slept in the brush again that night, and the next morning was so hungry she went into a village looking for a school or a butcher shop. She was hungry enough to welcome peanut butter sandwiches or ham.

  She was still bleary-eyed and her legs were wobbly. Before she found either school or butcher shop she came to a filling station, and just then an old scarred bus rolled up and stopped across the street. It looked as though it had come a long way, and there were several mattresses piled in a jumble on the back seats. A group of young people got out, all with long hair and in bare feet, most of them in dungarees. Two had beards and several had drooping mustaches. The others probably were girls. Obviously a girl was the only one in a dress, a long, gypsy-skirted green and yellow dress. They all came across the street to the rest rooms and Penny went over to the bus, sniffed, didn’t smell food and reluctantly turned away.

  By then the first of them were coming back. The girl in the gypsy dress saw Penny and cried, “Look! A dog!”

  One of the men shouted, “Steal this
dog!”

  The girl said, “Hello, Doggykins. Want to join the commune?” Her voice was friendly. Penny tried to go to her, staggered, almost fell. “Wow!” the girl exclaimed. “She’s stoned!”

  “One of us,” someone said with a laugh, and the girl picked Penny up in her arms and carried her into the bus.

  They all came back and the bus went on. A little way and the girl with Penny in her arms said, “I’m starved. So is Doggykins.”

  “Soul food,” someone said. “Eat the soul food.”

  But the girl said, “I need some body food. Get me some sweet rolls.”

  The driver stopped at a store, the girl gave another girl a few nickels and dimes, and she brought back a plastic bagful of sweet buns. A tall, thin blond young man clad only in stagged-off dungarees chanted, “One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns, If you have no daughters, feed them to your dog.” And Penny wondered how they knew her name.

  They drove on, and the girl fed Penny all the sweet buns she could eat. She liked the sweetness, but the doughiness was hard to swallow. She needed something in her stomach, though. When she had stuffed herself, she went to the back of the bus and crawled up on a mattress. She slept most of the day, while the bus rattled and wheezed down the road. From time to time someone strummed a guitar and sang a monotonous song about how far it was from anywhere and how little anything mattered.

  Late afternoon and Penny wakened just as they were crossing a big river on a high bridge. Some of the dizziness was gone, but she still staggered when she tried to walk down the aisle of the lurching bus. Everybody laughed at her and somebody offered her a drink of beer. She didn’t like it. She found the girl in the long dress, whom the others called Liz. Liz found a jug of water and poured some for her in a tin cup.

  They came to a shopping center and parked, and Liz and one of the other girls and one of the boys went into a big supermarket. When they came back Liz had a paper bag with a carton of milk and half a dozen oranges.

 
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